The Meaning of Life and the Great Philosophers reveals how great philosophers of the past sought to answer the question of the meaning of life. This edited collection includes thirty-five chapters which each focus on a major figure, from Confucius to Rorty, and that imaginatively engage with the topic from their perspective. This volume also contains a Postscript on the historical origins and original significance of the phrase 'the meaning of life'.
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited, stimulating, and quirky enquiry, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer. Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers--from Marx and Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, Sartre, and Beckett--have responded to the ultimate question of meaning. He suggests, however, that (...) it is only in modern times that the question has become problematic. But instead of tackling it head-on, many of us cope with the feelings of meaninglessness in our lives by filling them with everything from football to sex, Kabbala, Scientology, "New Age softheadedness," or fundamentalism. On the other hand, Eagleton notes, many educated people believe that life is an evolutionary accident that has no intrinsic meaning. If our lives have meaning, it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come ready made. Eagleton probes this view of meaning as a kind of private enterprise, and concludes that it fails to holds up. He argues instead that the meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living--that is, a certain quality, depth, abundance and intensity of life. Here then is a brilliant discussion of the problem of meaning by a leading thinker, who writes with a light and often irreverent touch, but with a very serious end in mind. "If you were to ask what provides some meaning in life nowadays for a great many people, especially men, you could do worse than reply 'football.' Not many of them perhaps would be willing to admit as much; but sport stands in for all those noble causes--religious faith, national sovereignty, personal honor, ethnic identity--for which, over the centuries, people have been prepared to go to their deaths. It is sport, not religion, which is now the opium of the people.". (shrink)
Even if the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is coherent, the fact remains that it is vague. Its vagueness largely centers on the use of the term “meaning.” The most prevalent strategy for addressing this vagueness is to discard the word “meaning” and reformulate the question entirely into questions such as, “What is the purpose of life?” or “What makes life valuable?” among others. This approach has philosophical merit but does not account (...) for the intuitions and sub-questions driving the original question as plausibly as does an interpretation that I call the narrative interpretation. I will argue that the question, “What is the meaning of life?” should be understood as the request for a narrative that narrates across those elements and accompanying questions of life of greatest existential import to human beings. (shrink)
The evolution of life on Earth has produced an organism that is beginning to model and understand its own evolution and the possible future evolution of life in the universe. These models and associated evidence show that evolution on Earth has a trajectory. The scale over which living processes are organized cooperatively has increased progressively, as has its evolvability. Recent theoretical advances raise the possibility that this trajectory is itself part of a wider developmental process. According to these (...) theories, the developmental process has been shaped by a yet larger evolutionary dynamic that involves the reproduction of universes. This evolutionary dynamic has tuned the key parameters of the universe to increase the likelihood that life will emerge and produce outcomes that are successful in the larger process (e.g. a key outcome may be to produce life and intelligence that intentionally reproduces the universe and tunes the parameters of ‘offspring’ universes). Theory suggests that when life emerges on a planet, it moves along this trajectory of its own accord. However, at a particular point evolution will continue to advance only if organisms emerge that decide to advance the developmental process intentionally. The organisms must be prepared to make this commitment even though the ultimate nature and destination of the process is uncertain, and may forever remain unknown. Organisms that complete this transition to intentional evolution will drive the further development of life and intelligence in the universe. Humanity’s increasing understanding of the evolution of life in the universe is rapidly bringing it to the threshold of this major evolutionary transition. (shrink)
The phrase "the meaning of life" for many seems a quaint notion fit for satirical mauling by Monty Python or Douglas Adams. But in this spirited Very Short Introduction, famed critic Terry Eagleton takes a serious if often amusing look at the question and offers his own surprising answer. Eagleton first examines how centuries of thinkers and writers--from Marx and Schopenhauer to Shakespeare, Sartre, and Beckett--have responded to the ultimate question of meaning. He suggests, however, that it (...) is only in modern times that the question has become problematic. But instead of tackling it head-on, many of us cope with the feelings of meaninglessness in our lives by filling them with everything from football to sex, Kabbala, Scientology, "New Age softheadedness," or fundamentalism. On the other hand, Eagleton notes, many educated people believe that life is an evolutionary accident that has no intrinsic meaning. If our lives have meaning, it is something with which we manage to invest them, not something with which they come ready made. Eagleton probes this view of meaning as a kind of private enterprise, and concludes that it fails to holds up. He argues instead that the meaning of life is not a solution to a problem, but a matter of living in a certain way. It is not metaphysical but ethical. It is not something separate from life, but what makes it worth living--that is, a certain quality, depth, abundance and intensity of life. Here then is a brilliant discussion of the problem of meaning by a leading thinker, who writes with a light and often irreverent touch, but with a very serious end in mind. (shrink)
Several philosophers have argued that if we examine our lives in context of the cosmos at large, sub specie aeternitatis, we cannot escape life's meaninglessness. To see our lives as meaningful, we have to shun the point of view of the cosmos and consider our lives only in the narrower context of the here and now. I argue that this view is incorrect: life can be seen as meaningful also sub specie aeternitatis. While criticizing arguments by, among others, (...) Simon Blackburn, Nicholas Rescher, and Thomas Nagel, I show that what determines assessments of the meaning of a life are the standards of meaningfulness one endorses rather than the size of the context in which that life is assessed. Employing non-demanding standards of meaningfulness to assess a life is compatible with examining it in the context of the cosmos at large. That is also the case if we accept Nagel's claim that to examine a life sub specie aeternitatis is to examine it externally, impersonally and objectively: life can be evaluated as meaningful also when under these perspectives if the standards of meaningfulness we adopt are not overly challenging. Nor does the contingency of our existence, realized sub specie aeternitatis, render our life meaningless. Contrary to a commonly accepted view, then, examining our lives sub specie aeternitatis does not necessitate that we see them as meaningless. (shrink)
We present an analysis of a notion of the meaning of life, according to which our lives have meaning if we spend them intentionally producing what has value for ourselves or others. In this sense our lives can have meaning even if a science-inspired view of the world is correct, and they are only transient phenomena in a vast universe. Our lives are more or less meaningful in this sense due to the difference in value for (...) ourselves and others we intentionally create while leading them. These inequalities are morally unjustifiable because they are ultimately due to factors beyond our responsibility and control. But from the point of view of eternity these differences in meaningfulness and value dwindle to insignificance, and this offers some consolation for the unjustifiable inequalities. (shrink)
Many writers in various fields--philosophy, religion, literature, and psychology--believe that the question of the meaning of life is one of the most significant problems that an individual faces. In The Meaning of Life, Second Edition, E.D. Klemke collects some of the best writings on this topic, primarily works by philosophers but also selections from literary figures and religious thinkers. The twenty-seven cogent, readable essays are organized around three different perspectives on the meaning of life. (...) In Part I, the readings assert and defend the theistic view that without the existence of God--or faith in God--life has no significance or purpose. In Part II the selections deny this thesis, defending instead the humanistic alternative--that life has or can have meaning and worth without any theistic beliefs or commitment. In the final group of readings, contributors ask if the question of the meaning of life is in itself legitimate and significant. The volume also includes an introduction by the editor and a selected bibliography. This new edition adds essays by A. J. Ayer, Hazel Barnes, William Lane Craig, Owen Flanagan, Antony Flew, Thomas Nagel, Kai Nielsen, Philip L. Quinn, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Walter T. Stace. The only anthology of its kind, The Meaning of Life, Second Edition, is ideal for courses in introduction to philosophy and human nature. It also provides an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject for general readers. (shrink)
I defend the theory that one's life is meaningful to the extent that one promotes the good. Call this the good cause account (GCA) of the meaning of life. It holds that the good effects that count towards the meaning of one's life need not be intentional. Nor must one be aware of the effects. Nor does it matter whether the same good would have resulted if one had not existed. What matters is that one (...) is causally responsible for the good. I argue that the best theory of the meaning of life should clearly distinguish between subjective fulfillment and objective meaningfulness. The GCA respects the distinction. And it is superior to its leading rivals in the recent literature, most notably those of Erik Wielenberg and Susan Wolf. (shrink)
Life’s meaning is a deeply important yet perplexing topic. It is often unclear what people are talking about when they talk about life having “meaning”. This paper attempts to clarify things by articulating a schema for understanding claims about meaning. It defends a theory according to which X means Y iff Y is a correct interpretation of X—i.e., if Y is a correct answer to an interpretive question, Z. I argue that this (perhaps surprising) claim (...) has impressive explanatory power. Applying this schema to life explains the many ways in which people seem to think and talk about life’s meaning, and common claims in the philosophical literature. It also makes sense of empirical findings from psychological research on perceived meaning in life. (shrink)
Much more than just an anthology, this survey of humanity's search for the meaning of life includes the latest contributions to the debate, a judicious selection of key canonical essays, and insightful commentary by internationally respected philosophers. Cutting-edge viewpoint features the most recent contributions to the debate Extensive general introduction offers unprecedented context Leading contemporary philosophers provide insightful introductions to each section.
As humans, we want to live meaningfully, yet we are often driven by impulse. In Religion and the Meaning of Life, Williams investigates this paradox – one with profound implications. Delving into felt realities pertinent to meaning, such as boredom, trauma, suicide, denial of death, and indifference, Williams describes ways to acquire meaning and potential obstacles to its acquisition. This book is unique in its willingness to transcend a more secular stance and explore how one's belief (...) in God may be relevant to life's meaning. Religion and the Meaning of Life's interdisciplinary approach makes it useful to philosophers, religious studies scholars, psychologists, students, and general readers alike. The insights from this book have profound real-world applications – they can transform how readers search for meaning and, consequently, how readers see and exist in the world. (shrink)
I remember being a child, wondering where I would be—wondering who I would be—when the year 2000 arrived. I hoped I would live that long. I hoped I would be in reasonable health. I would not have guessed I would have a white collar job, or that I would live in the United States. I would have laughed if you had told me the new millennium would find me giving a public lecture on the meaning of life. But (...) that is life, unfolding as it does, meaning whatever it means. I am grateful to be here. I also am simply amazed. I am forty-four. Not old, but old enough that friends and family are beginning to provide more occasions for funerals than for weddings. Old enough to love life for what it is. Old enough to see that it has meaning, even while seeing that it has less than I might wish. I am an analytic philosopher. Analytic philosophers are trained to spot weaknesses in arguments. Unfortunately, that sort of training does not prepare us for questions about life’s meaning. A perfect argument, Robert Nozick suggests in jest, would leave readers with no choice but to agree with the conclusion.1 When we think about life’s meaning, though, we are not trying to win a debate. Success in grappling with the question is less like articulating and defending a position and more like growing up.2 Perhaps that is why academics have written so little on the meaning of life, despite it being arguably the central topic of philosophy.3 Speaking to analytic philosophers about life’s meaning would be like stepping into a boxing ring in search of a dance partner. Or so we fear. Perhaps there is no excuse for venturing into an area where we cannot meet our usual standards. More likely, one way of respecting philosophical standards is by not trying to apply them when they are not apt, thus refusing to let them become a straitjacket—a caricature of intellectual rigor. So, I do not here seek the kind of argumentative closure that we normally think of as the hallmark of success in analytic philosophy.. (shrink)
The question 'What is the meaning of life?' is one of the most fascinating, oldest and most difficult questions human beings have ever posed themselves. In an increasingly secularized culture, it remains a question to which we are ineluctably and powerfully drawn. Drawing skillfully on a wealth of thinkers, writers and scientists from Augustine, Descartes, Freud and Camus, to Spinoza, Pascal, Darwin, and Wittgenstein, _On the Meaning of Life_ breathes new vitality into one of the very biggest (...) questions. (shrink)
In parts of his Notebooks, Tractatus and in “Lecture on Ethics”, Wittgenstein advanced a new approach to the problems of the meaning of life. It was developed as a reaction to the explorations on this theme by Bertrand Russell. Wittgenstein’s objective was to treat it with a higher degree of exactness. The present paper shows that he reached exactness by treating themes of philosophical anthropology using the formal method of topology.
Introduction: The problem of vitalism : active/passive -- Brain, system, model : the affective turn -- Vitalism and theoria -- Inorganic art -- Inorganic vitalism -- The vital order after theory -- On becoming -- Living systems, extended minds, gaia -- Conclusion.
One trend in contemporary discussions of the topic, ‘the meaning of life.’ is to emphasize what might be termed its subjective dimension. That is, it is widely recognized that ‘the meaning of life’ is not something that simply could be presented to an individual, regardless of how he/she felt about it. Thus, for example, Karl Britton has written that we could imagine ‘a featureless god who set before men some goal and somehow drove them to pursue (...) it'; while this would constitute a purpose for human life, it would hardly be sufficient to render life meaningful. ‘The goal would seem arbitrary, senseless: and its pursuit burdensome, souldestroying.’ Similarly, R. W. Hepburn has stated that meaningfulness must indispensably involve value judgment. Any set of conditions presented to us, whether by God, nature, or our fellow humans, constitutes a fact about how the world is; what provides meaningfulness to our lives, on the other hand, must be something which we affirm - something we feel ought to be the case. (shrink)
This study focuses on the experimental and philosophical analysis of the meaning of life in death situation, according to Wittgenstein’s way of life and sayings during the war. The method of extraction and analysis of information is grounded theory. For this purpose, Wittgenstein’s writings such as his letters and memories, and other’s texts about his life and his internal moods were analyzed. After analyzing the collected information and categorizing them in frames of open codes, axial codes, (...) etc. we recognized that Wittgenstein's point of view in death situation was supernatural God-centered. By reading Tolstoy gospel and Dostoyevsky's works, Wittgenstein has reached a kind of religious awakening in that period of his life. But before and after the war period he had a naturalistic point of view toward the meaning of life, in which moral values are in the core. (shrink)
This paper revisits the scope of Catherine Malabou’s thinking as a development of the ontological turn in continental philosophy. It puts this excursion of thinking alongside an account of education in modernity as the apotheosis of biopower. It aligns biopower, as manifest in education, as form of ‘technological enframing’. In this it challenges the dominant assumption that education is somehow, ultimately, independently of its manifest form, a force for good. Foregoing the idealist addiction to education as redemption, then, it sees (...) Malabou’s contribution as significant in terms of a fundamental, ontological rethinking of education and the social politics of our time. It is argued that Malabou’s contribution offers a significant contribution to rethinking education as biopower and clearing away the dominant, redemptive myths of modern and contemporary ontotheology. This is a position never entertained in the field of philosophy of education. (shrink)
Hermeneutics approaches the meaning of life quite uniquely: it grasps the intrinsic intelligibility of life by employing a universal concept of meaning, applicable to all phenomena. While other conceptions identify the meaning of life with values or scopes, hermeneutics starts from a grass-roots work on the meanings that are embedded at every level of reality. In this paper, I analyze this approach, especially focusing on Husserl, Heidegger, and Gadamer. First, I outline Husserl’s philosophy of (...)meaning as developed in response to the crisis of meaning. Second, I discuss Heidegger’s concept of meaning and his understanding of life as self-movement. Third, I analyze Gadamer’s concept of common sense and his idea of hermeneutic mediation that conveys the meaning of life itself. (shrink)
Featuring nine new articles chosen by coeditor Steven M. Cahn, the third edition of E. D. Klemke's The Meaning of Life offers twenty-two insightful selections that explore this fascinating topic. The essays are primarily by philosophers but also include materials from literary figures and religious thinkers. As in previous editions, the readings are organized around three themes. In Part I the articles defend the view that without faith in God, life has no meaning or purpose. In (...) Part II the selections oppose this claim, defending instead a nontheistic, humanistic alternative--that life can have meaning even in the absence of theistic commitment. In Part III the contributors ask whether the question of the meaning of life is itself meaningful. The third edition adds substantial essays by Moritz Schlick, Joel Feinberg, and John Kekes as well as selections from the writings of Louis P. Pojman, Emil L. Fackenheim, Robert Nozick, Susan Wolf, and Steven M. Cahn. The only anthology of its kind, The Meaning of Life: A Reader, Third Edition, is ideal for courses in introduction to philosophy, human nature, and the meaning of life. It also offers general readers an accessible and stimulating introduction to the subject. (shrink)
The present text deals with the question of the meaning of life in theexistentialist theory oft heNorwegian philosopher Peter Wessel Zapffe(1899–1990). In his book On the Tragic (1941), Zapffe sketched a theory of the human condition where the meaning of life plays a decisive role together with the human need for justice. This paper aims to reconstruct the central elements of Zapffe’s analysis and to discuss them critically by focusing on his claim that human beings need (...) a fundamental meaning of life as a whole that transcends meaning in life. I pay particular attention to Zapffe’s claim that life is meaningless, since the meaning of life is fundamentallylacking.I conclude that Zapffe’s analysis is problematic for reasons both internal and external to his theory. (shrink)
‘The Meaning of Life’ and ‘The Philosophy of Religion’ have meant different things to different people, and so I do well to alert my reader to what these phrases mean to me and thus to the subject area of this review of recent work on their intersection. First, ‘The Meaning of Life’: within the analytic tradition, an idea has gained widespread assent; whatever the vague and enigmatic nature of the phrase ‘the meaning of life’, (...) we may sensibly speak of meaningfulness in a life as a particular, positive, normative feature that some individuals’ lives may well have, and this feature is to be distinguished from, though closely related to, other positive features – satisfaction, wellbeing, virtue and so forth. There has been much work done on these assumptions in recent years. An excellent summary of this work up to its date of publication is given by Thaddeus Metz (in his 2007 a). Many – though by no means all – philosophers retain an instinctive scepticism toward the phrase ‘the meaning of life’ and a reluctance to engage with it, for it seems to connote vague and/or impossible-to-fulfil cosmic expectations. (See Thomson , chapter 11 and Seachris 2009 for attempts to engage with it nonetheless.) But philosophers are not generally now so sceptical about talk of meaningfulness in life and thus not so sceptical about the phrase ‘the meaning of life’ if it is taken to be referring merely to this. And that is how I shall be taking it. Secondly, ‘The Philosophy of Religion’: in the analytic tradition, this has usually been taken to be philosophical reflection on the rational acceptability or otherwise of classical theism and on what God's existence, should He exist, entails ontologically, metaphysically, metaethically and so forth. Therefore, I shall be talking about recent reflection in the analytic tradition on the relationship between the God of classical theism's existence (or lack of it) and meaningfulness (or lack of it) in human lives. (shrink)
Part of the Elements Philosophy of Religion series, this short book focuses on the spiritual dimensions of life’s meaning as they have been discussed in the recent English and mainly analytic philosophical literature. The overarching philosophical question that this literature has addressed is about the extent to which, and respects in which, spiritual realities such as God or a soul would confer meaning on our lives. There have been four broad answers to the question, namely: God or (...) a soul is necessary for meaning in our lives; they are not necessary for it; one or both would enhance the meaning in our lives; and they would detract from it. These views have been largely advanced in chronological order through the history of Western philosophy, with the view that life would be meaningless without God and a soul having been most prominent in the medieval period, the rejection of this claim having arisen in the modern era, and then sophisticated positions about enhancement or reduction having appeared in earnest only in the past 20 years. This book addresses all four positions, paying particular attention to the more recent views. Beyond familiarizing readers with these positions, it presents prima facie objections to them, points out gaps in research agendas, and suggests argumentative strategies that merit development. (shrink)
In this article I survey philosophical literature on the topic of what, if anything, makes a person’s life meaningful, focusing on systematic texts that are written in English and that have appeared in the last five years (2002-2007). My aims are to present overviews of the most important, fresh, Anglo-American positions on meaning in life and to raise critical questions about them worth answering in future work.
Hans Jonas’ “philosophical biology,” although developed several decades ago, is still fundamental to the contemporary reflection upon the meaning of life in a systems thinking perspective. Jonas, in fact, closely examines the reasons of modern science, and especially of Wiener’s Cybernetics and Bertalanffy’s General System Theory, and at the same time points out their basic limits, such as their having a reductionistic attitude to knowledge and ontology. In particular, the philosopher highlights the problematic consequences of scientific reductionism for (...) human nature. As the final result of an overall process of naturalization, the essence of the human being is reduced to its quantitative features only, while the “meaning” of life as such becomes no different from the “fact” of its material consistency. However, the problem is that by such a process, the human being is deprived of his specificity. (shrink)
In this article I critically discuss English-speaking philosophical literature addressing the question of what it essentially means to speak of 'life’s meaning'. Instead of considering what might in fact confer meaning on life, I make two claims about the more abstract, meta-ethical question of how to understand what by definition is involved in making that sort enquiry. One of my claims is that over the past five years there has been a noticeable trend among philosophers to (...) try to change our understanding of what talk of 'life’s meaning' connotes. For example, whereas most philosophers for a long while had held that such talk is about a kind of value possible in the life of human beings, recently some have argued that certain non-human parts of nature can exhibit meaningfulness, which, furthermore, is not necessarily something valuable. The second claim I advance is that there is strong reason to reject this trend, and instead for philosophers to retain the long-standing approach. (shrink)
Suppose we are about to enter an era of increasing technological unemployment. What implications does this have for society? Two distinct ethical/social issues would seem to arise. The first is one of distributive justice: how will the efficiency gains from automated labour be distributed through society? The second is one of personal fulfillment and meaning: if people no longer have to work, what will they do with their lives? In this article, I set aside the first issue and focus (...) on the second. In doing so, I make three arguments. First, I argue that there are good reasons to embrace non-work and that these reasons become more compelling in an era of technological unemployment. Second, I argue that the technological advances that make widespread technological unemployment possible could still threaten or undermine human flourishing and meaning, especially if they do not remain confined to the economic sphere. And third, I argue that this threat could be contained if we adopt an integrative approach to our relationship with technology. In advancing these arguments, I draw on three distinct literatures: the literature on technological unemployment and workplace automation; the antiwork critique—which I argue gives reasons to embrace technological unemployment; and the philosophical debate about the conditions for meaning in life—which I argue gives reasons for concern. (shrink)
This is an article that explores the question "what is the meaning of life?" particularly with respect to humanism and theism. It defends a humanist position, and refutes a number of arguments for the conclusion that a meaningful human existence requires the existence of God.
This book is at once incisive and exploratory, interpretive and historic scholarship. It appeals to both general and specialized readers. It uniquely takes a common philosophical theme, the meaning of life, and traces it through many philosophers’ and novelists' works. Sometimes the theme is buried and implicit, and offers a plausible distillation of each author's view. The result is a title that may sound like a self-help book’s—except the contents expand in manifold directions rather than narrow to easy (...) advice. The reader, not spoon fed, is provided only one advice: Read these, and decide for onerself, especially if none of them answers sufficiently for each reader. Philosophers represnted include Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard. Nietzche, James, Wittgenstein, Novelists include Melville, Tolstoy, Proust, and Camus. (shrink)
Monotheism and the Meaning of Life explores the role of God, and the relationship to the question 'What is the meaning of life?' for adherents of the main monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Exploring the various senses of 'meaning' and 'life', Mawson argues that there are various questions implicit in the notion of the meaning of life and that the God of monotheistic religion is central to the correct answers to (...) all of them. (shrink)
It is commonly assumed that a virtual life would be less meaningful (perhaps even meaningless). As virtual reality technologies develop and become more integrated into our everyday lives, this poses a challenge for those that care about meaning in life. In this chapter, it is argued that the common assumption about meaninglessness and virtuality is mistaken. After clarifying the distinction between two different visions of virtual reality, four arguments are presented for thinking that meaning is possible (...) in virtual reality. Following this, four objections are discussed and rebutted. The chapter concludes that we can be cautiously optimistic about the possibility of meaning in virtual worlds. (shrink)